Male volunteers are rare.
A local elementary school counselor shared this with me recently, leading me to search for data to determine if this anecdotal experience reflected a larger trend.
The latest U.S. census data (2010) revealed that males represent 49.2 percent of the population.
In 2015, 21.3 percent of all males volunteered their time, compared to 27.8 percent of all women, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report.
Of all the male volunteers in 2015, 23.9 percent assisted in “education or youth service related” initiatives, compared to 26.2 percent of women.
Differences in education volunteering were more pronounced among those with children younger than 18 – with 45.1 percent of women compared to 36.8 percent of men.
“Across all age groups, educational levels and other major demographic characteristics, women continued to volunteer at a higher rate than men,” BLS said.
Further research revealed that the lack of a significant male presence in schools isn’t limited to volunteers.
According to BLS data for 2015, men represent only 3.2 percent of general education teachers in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms.
By comparison, 19.3 percent of teachers in second through eighth grade, and 41.8 percent of ninth- through 12th-grade teachers, are men. Only 12.5 percent of K-12 special education teachers are male.
While the number of male teachers increases with grade level, the percent average of male K-12 general education and special education teachers is 19.2 percent. Only in postsecondary education do men (54.5 percent) outnumber women (46.5 percent).
Unfortunately, the data bears out my experience: male volunteers (and teachers) in K-12 schools are rare. So, what difference, if any, does this make?
“As far as research is concerned, there is no link between teacher gender and student achievement,” says Dan Laitsch, an associate professor in the faculty of education at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia.
A 2013 study affirmed Laitsch’s view that there isn’t a difference in academic performance between students with male and female teachers, yet it also highlighted important social development benefits from having teachers from both genders.
Fostering an environment of greater diversity is an important part of this positive social development, asserted Scott Hughes, an assistant education professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“It enhances the culture of learning when children see more men or people of different races or cultures teaching,” he said. “We are stepping into a world that is so diverse. If children can see that diversity and live it every day, that contributes to a really healthy and divergent school culture.”
Bryan G. Nelson, founder of MenTeach.org and faculty member at Minnesota’s Metro State University, offered similar comments about the importance of diversity, with students seeing both men and women in teaching roles.
“Children learn best from role modeled behavior and approaches … Children learn by watching,” he stated. “If you have no male teachers in a child’s life, they’re not seeing men valuing education. It’s also so important for girls to see positive interactions between men and women, and seeing male and female teachers interacting can provide a positive image of a man.”
Low levels of male involvement in K-12 education and the importance of changing this reality is further demonstrated by the national PTA devoting a page on its website to increasing male engagement.
So how can men become more involved?
Choosing a career in K-12 education is an obvious route. With the number of education majors at all all-time low, it is important to encourage younger generations to consider teaching as a vocation.
This can be pursued through a traditional four-year degree in education, or through an alternate certification program for those with a college degree in a field other than education.
Those not wishing to pursue a career in teaching can volunteer at a local school by tutoring or mentoring on a regular basis, or helping with specific needs and projects.
Contact your local school and ask them about volunteer and mentor needs. Become a PTA member if you have a child currently in K-12. Find out if your local church is already helping a school in your community, as many provide ongoing support to administrators, teachers and students.
For example, when EthicsDaily.com asked local church pastors to share how their congregations contributed social capital to their local communities, three of the six pastors contributing articles highlighted their church’s work with a local school.
The data is clear: Women are leading the way in K-12 education – working diligently, faithfully and effectively to help students learn essential skills, complete their education and ultimately find success in future vocations.
More men need to join them.